Celtics

Mike Gorman shared why Tommy Heinsohn is ‘never going to be replaced’

"He’s bigger than life. The Celtics lost their heart and their voice today."

Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn. Photo courtesy Mike Gorman

Oftentimes, when Mike Gorman introduced Tommy Heinsohn – the Celtics’ longtime player, coach, and broadcaster, who died at age 86 – Gorman would turn to a familiar script.

“If you’re over 60,” Gorman said, “you know Tommy as a player.”

“If you’re over 40, you know Tommy as a coach.”

“If you’re over 20, you know Tommy as a broadcaster.”

“If you’re under 10, you think he’s Shrek.”

“He loved that intro,” his broadcast partner Gorman recalled Tuesday on NBC Sports Boston. “The first time I gave it to him, he said, ‘Who’s Shrek? What’s Shrek?’ I said, ‘Shrek’s an ogre, but he’s a good guy.’ Tommy says, ‘OK, you can use that whenever you want. That’s good.’”

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Heinsohn, of course, was known for his honesty, Homerism, and relentlessness while playfully bashing officials during Celtics games for decades. Gorman said referees understood who Heinsohn was, and they didn’t mind the barrage of complaints because of his pristine reputation as a basketball lifer.

He may have been over the top, Gorman said, but it was for the right reasons. It was “quality over the top” that added context and perspective, he noted.

“All he is is just a guy who really wants his team to win,” Gorman told Kyle Draper and Brian Scalabrine on NBC Sports Boston. “He’s a little louder than most, and has a microphone, so he has a little different responsibility than the guy with a Budweiser in the second balcony. But Tommy’s Tommy. Tommy’s never going to be replaced. He’s bigger than life. The Celtics lost their heart and their voice today.”

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Scalabrine asked if Heinsohn typically planned his outlandish comments that ended up going viral or if they were all totally spontaneous, and Gorman explained that Heinsohn simply felt as though he always needed to provide a spark.

As a broadcaster, he didn’t have quite as much say in the outcome of the game as he did as a player or coach, so his remarks were often designed to give the Celtics a small push in whatever way he could. Regardless of the opponent, Gorman said, all he wanted was a victory.

“Tommy thought playing the Lakers was exactly the same as playing the Orlando Magic,” Gorman shared. “It didn’t matter who the team was in the standings, or anything else. It mattered that you were the Boston Celtics that particular night, and you need to go beat this team. You need to treat them as though they’re a big-time team, whether they were or weren’t.”

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Even though Heinsohn was aggressive toward officials, Gorman said he was a “romantic at heart,” noting that Heinsohn would often bring his watercolors on the road with him and paint in parks.

He also recounted how Heinsohn created an oil painting of the inn where Gorman and his wife were married. It took him a year to paint, and it now hangs in a prominent place in the Gorman home.

Gorman flashed back to the first Celtics game he called alongside Heinsohn. He recalled how he was completely over-prepared, with key words written in different colors all over his notes. Heinsohn, meanwhile, was nonchalantly smoking a cigarette, and about three minutes before they went on air, Heinsohn looked at Gorman’s notes and said, “What’s this blank?”

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“‘We’re not going to need this blank,'” Gorman recalled Heinsohn saying. “He takes my notes, crumples them up in a ball, and throws them off the first balcony.”

Ten hours of work had vanished instantaneously, Gorman said, remembering how shocked he was in the moment. Heinsohn then put his arm around Gorman, endearingly called him “kiddo,” and told him they were going to talk about what they saw on the court. That was all they needed to do, and the rest would fall into place.

“That’s what we did for 39 years,” Gorman said.

Gorman said Heinsohn had a tough couple of months in the end, and he believes he’s “in a better place.” He added that there’s a “certain sense of relief now,” and he hopes he’ll rest in peace.

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“Unless they put him anywhere near officials,” Gorman said. “Then he’ll have a real problem.”

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